“Virtual Migrants” are Staring at a Screen Blog Post 4- Nakamura


By the end of Lisa Nakamura’s article “Don’t Hate the Player….” I was unsure how to feel about these “Chinese farmers.” Does Nakamura want me to feel sorry for these workers who experience racism even in a digital world? Well, frankly I didn’t. Not that I am callous to their experience, but I wonder if a person motivated by economic need who sits in front of a screen all day pointing and clicking, who may not even understand English, is really getting too offended.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think Nakamura provided an adequate rendering of the real-life situations of these farmers. Instead I left thinking that the issue has much more to do with the economic situation of those who need to robotically play a game to make money, than some vaguely racist video some kid made. Sure, people are racist, and when they get a new way to communicate, they utilize it to express racist sentiments, but I don’t think the game has much to do with those opinions.

My big issue with Nakamura’s rhetorical strategy comes from her drastic shifts between reprimanding players for generalizing online farmers as impoverished Chinese players, and then turning around and using the same generalizations in her own points. She makes special note to acknowledge that the use of “Chinese” as an insult is more of a jab at a style of play, not necessarily connected to the player’s actual race. Additionally, she states that “though not all farmers, or for-profit workers, are Asian by any means, the image of the farmer has come to include race as part of the package” (Nakamura 132). Here she tries to demonstrate how this stereotyped connection between race and negative behavior is an example of racism exhibiting itself on this online platform.

But then she does the exact same thing to make her arguments! In explaining how “gold farmers…unlike other types of ‘‘migrant’’ workers, their labors are offshore, and thus invisible – they are ‘virtual migrants,’” she assumes that these types of players are foreign (Nakamura 131). Even her consistent use of the term “Chinese farmers” to describe these “for-profit players” reveals her own entrenchment in the notions she tries to criticize. Perhaps she would argue that she uses this term for ease of understanding, but I think that sticking to “farmers” would have done the trick for this article.

Nakamura’s investigation of racism that has bled from physical reality to virtual reality is compelling, but more of a look at an effect than a cause. She talks about how some scholars have praised these worlds because “they are exempt from ‘real world’ problems such as racism, classism…” but that these ideals are riddled with fallacies (Nakamura 130). Though she provides ample support for these claims of racist prevalence in virtual worlds, I still don’t know how she she proposes we fix it by exploring the virtual fruit of the problem instead of it’s real-world roots.

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3 Responses to “Virtual Migrants” are Staring at a Screen Blog Post 4- Nakamura

  1. cstabile says:

    Part of what Nakamura is getting at is the way in which the online discourses participate in a long history of demonizing and stereotyping Chinese (and broadly speaking, Asian) workers (historically known as the “yellow peril” discourse). But you’re right to point out that she accepts at face value that those farming gold for the market are in fact Chinese — as I pointed out in my reply to A. below, Julian Dibbell suggests that a lot of this kind of sweated labor is taking place in Mexico, or at least it was in 2007-2009.

    I’m interested in your closing comment — that hate speech in virtual worlds has its roots in real world problems. But that seems to suggest that we can’t address these issues without taking on everything at once. Can’t we work to change toxic gamer cultures in them and on their own terms?

  2. gmills2013 says:

    I think that you are right Nakamura thinks of most or all gold farmers as being Chinese. In fact, it is estimated that 80% of gold farmers are Chinese-
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7575902.stm. The other 20%, as our professor noted, are from other 2nd or 3rd world nations such as Mexico. So it is true that Nakamura uses a generalization here that only applies to 80% of the people she talks about.

    But I don’t think the problem lies in the thinking that most gold farming sweat shops are located in China (because they are, provided the Manchester University research is correct), rather the problem is when people in the WOW machinima refer to gold farming as an ‘Oriental’ style of play, which Nakamura argues without hypocrisy. The machinima assumes that all gold farmers are Chinese, but Nakamura points out that there are a million Chinese players alone, and therefore the vast majority of Chinese players (or Asian players in general) are leisure players (bottom of 130).

    The problem therefore lies with how the WOW machinima treats such a large constituency of its own players. This is what Nakamura is criticizing, not whether or not most gold farmers are in fact Chinese (because, once again, they are). If I were a Chinese or Korean player of WOW, who enjoyed and loved the game as a leisure player, I would be absolutely insulted by videos such as this- http://www.warcraftmovies.com/movieview.php?id=45561

    This brings me to your first point. Nakamura isn’t asking the reader to necessarily feel sorry for the sweatshop worker (although I feel pretty bad for all sweatshop workers in general) rather, I think she asks us to think critically about the racism endured by the other 1 million Chinese players who play WOW for fun. These players are submitted to unfair criticism that matches their cultural identity with sweatshop labor. It would be like me saying because the majority of the U.S. prison population is white and male, all American white males must be convicts. That is how the WOW machinama has treated these players.

    I say the way to fix it is by disparaging the notion that all Chinese players play WOW to gold farm. That in fact, the vast majority of Chinese players do not play for economic means, and enjoy WOW the same way American players enjoy the game (cultural subjectivity arguments aside). I think that if the general American WOW machinima knew that such racism was statistically unfounded, the popularity of such racist machinima would be small. I also feel that game developers have a responsibility here, considering their game has spawned sweatshop labor and racist beliefs, to correct or negate the ability of worker players to be able to sell virtual goods that promote sweatshop labor and inspire such beliefs.

  3. I hadn’t thought about the extent to which Chinese players have experienced this racism — your post also makes me wonder if it wasn’t realm (or server) specific. I’m assuming, for example, that it mostly took place on US-based realms, which reinforces Nakamura’s argument about this being a racism that grew out of American ideologies. But I’m not sure that telling the players who are responsible that this racism was based on unfounded beliefs would make sense. Racist ideologies are, above all, highly irrational and premised on beliefs that are unscientific (craniology in the 19th century, eugenics in the 20th). Makes it much more difficult to change them.

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